US social scientist Kenneth Boulding : ‘If you believe exponential growth can go on in a finite world, you are either a madman or an economist’.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

24/6/09: Slow Worm likes habitat enhancement

There have been occasional records of Slow Worms (Anguis fragilis) - a legless lizard - in my Barnehurst garden for some years, and on one occasion 3 babies close together.

There have been two more sightings in recent weeks, including one adult male in a flower pot, which when distubed, burrowed down between the rootball and the side of the pot before I could get a picture.

In order to improve the habitat for Slow Worms, which are now a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species due to a decline in numbers, to make finding them more reliable and to thus be able to get a better idea of how many there are here, I recently set up the habitat enhancement features below:

These are two piles of grass clippings plus, importantly, rougher material so that the mix remains open and doesn't become a soggy mess, located in part sun/part shade, and covered with old black bin liners weighed down with bits of rubble. Old carpet, or carpet tiles are also effective.

Slow Worms like these because they can burrow into the dryish pile of vegetation, it's moist enough that more food is attracted (worms and slugs being their favoured prey) and they can get warm by being pressed up against the covering. One of the main advantages of this behaviour (termed thigmothermy) is that it speeds up digestion of food whilst at the same time keeping the practitioner hidden from predators.

The first animal was found using these facilities yesterday evening, and it was there again this morning.

The markings on the head are unique to each animal, and by recording these the number of different individuals can be determined - even if I only see one or two at a time.

Given the fairly dry nature of the sandy garden here, I don't expect numbers to be particularly high. On one of my allotments when I lived in Bristol, a larger heap covered in old carpet had 12 Slow Worms in it at once on one occasion. But in any case, I have made small piles of vegetation in several places around the garden in spots under shrubs that are too dry and shady to support much in the way of live plants. It's an easy way of helping Slow Worms and finding out if you have any in your garden.

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